Head Canon

The City & The Tower

This is a song about language. Specifically, it’s about how increasingly difficult it is to communicate in an internet-enabled world - everything has connotations, everything has unknown context. That’s what the myth of the Tower of Babel means to me .

It’s also a moment of self-reference, harking back to the track Lungs off the final album by my old band Our Lost Infantry (it’s also referenced again by my youngest sibling and ex-Our Lost Infantry bandmate in their band itoldyouiwouldeatyou’s track Young American)

Tie you down
In a bind of days gone by and needful things
Cage the bird but still you have to clip its wings
You can’t change the tune it sings
Trial by fire
Becomes the day to day, a routine test
As if the sentence meted out was said in jest
Til we all are dispossessed

Belief comes cheap
A rumour carried on the air
A waking sleep
For all in love and war is fair
A staged retreat
Letting bridges burn

Duty binds
Til orphaned sense becomes a dying breed
All meaning lost between the moving parts of speech
Traps the tongue behind the teeth
These narrow lines
With Beeching cuts made silent, over time
Til protocol makes virtue into crime
Tears the signal from the sign

Belief runs deep
Running through the cracks between
Awake and sleep
A rag to wipe the canvas clean
A staged retreat
Letting bridges burn

Salt the earth
Dam the river
Poison the well
Bar the gates
Pull up the ladder
Sound the horn and ring the bell

Salt the earth
Dam the river
March us into hell
We’ll take the scars
And we’ll remember
We were there, when Babel fell


© T Ashworth 2018

John Barleycorn

There were three men came out the West
Their fortune for to try
And these three men made a solemn vow:
John Barleycorn should die
They ploughed, they sowed, they harrowed him in
Threw clods upon his head
And these made a solemn vow:
John Barleycorn was dead

They let him lie for a very long time
Til rain from heaven did fall
Then little sir John raised up his head
And he soon amazed them all
They let him lie until the long midsummer
When he looked both pale and wan
Then little sir John grew a long, long beard
And so became a man

They hired men with scythes so sharp
To cut him off, down by the knee
They rolled and tied him around the waist
Served him most barbarously
They hired men with sharp pitchforks
To pierce him to the heart
But the loader, he served him worst than that,
For he bound him to the cart

They rolled him around and around the field
Til they came into a barn
And there they made a solemn mow
Of poor John Barleycorn
They hired men with crab tree sticks
To cut him skin from bone
But the miller, he served him worst than that,
For he ground him between two stones

Here’s little sir John in a nut brown bowl
And brandy in a glass
But little sir John in the nut brown bowl
Proved the stronger man at last
For the hunter, he can’t hunt the fox
Nor loudly blow his horn
And the tinker he can’t mend his kettles or pots
Without a little bit of John Barleycorn


Trad, arr T Ashworth

The Snow It Melts The Soonest

Oh the snow it melts the soonest
When the winds begin to sing
And the corn it ripens fastest
When the frost is setting in
When a young man tells me that
My face he’ll soon forget
Before we part, I’ll tell him now:
He’ll be fain to follow yet

Oh the snow it melts the soonest
When the winds begin to sing
And the swallow skims without a thought
As long as it is spring
But when spring goes and winter blows
My love, then you’ll be fain
For all your pride to follow me
Were it cross the stormy main

Oh the snow it melts the soonest
When the winds begin to sing
And the bee that flew when summer shone
In winter, he won’t sing
And all the flowers in all the land
So brightly there they’ll be
For the snow it melts the soonest
When my true love’s for me

So never say me farewell here
No farewell I’ll receive
You can see me to the stile
Where you’ll kiss and take your leave
And I’ll wait here til the woodcock crows
And the marten takes its leave
For the snow it melts the soonest
When the winds begin to sing

Trad, arr T Ashworth

Crossing The Water

This is a more introspective song than I initially thought would go on Head Canon - about wrestling with the need for self-care as we tiptoe towards the end of the world. I’m asking myself where taking time for yourself ends and fiddling while Rome burns begins.

I also want to doff my cap to Aaron Weiss of mewithoutYou for the springboard into verse 2 from his sublime words in The Dryness And The Rain:

“A fish swims in the sea
While the sea is in a certain sense
Contained within the fish!
Oh, what am I to think
What the writing
Of a thousand lifetimes
Could not explain
If all the forest trees were pens
And all the oceans - ink?”

I learned to sleep alone, my back to the wall
To murmur there unheard against the rise and the fall
A shadow on the breath, all these fits and starts
A ghost in the machine - you made a man with all moving parts
Symptoms undiagnosed, a body under stress
Evidence new disclosed and a case that I make under duress
I worry that night will fall before I find my way home

Bombs falling in the night turned my ribs to coal
Dreams of balances, feather for a soul
You read me like a book and I start to think
That my skin’s turned to paper and my blood to ink
Words run down the page, make the margins black
A weight off your shoulders and a metaphor that’s breaking my back
I worry that night will fall and all that I’ve built will be gone

Go find a hill before the flood comes
You show your fear, I’ll show you dust
What little I can hold in these arms
Is all that I will carry with me

I learned to sleep alone, my back to the wall
To murmur there unheard against the rise and the fall
Now the wind’s picking up - a storm in my throat
If no man is an island then keep me afloat
And tie me to the mast, I’ll pilot these straits
I hope it’s true what you said: that they also serve who stand and wait
I know that the dawn will break and all this will be said and done

© T Ashworth 2018

Derry Gaol

After morning there comes the evening
And after evening another day
And after old love there comes a new love
It is hard to keep those who will not stay
My love he is the finest young man
That ever nature framed or sun shone on
But how to save him, I do not know it
For he is sentenced all to be hung

As he walked out on the streets of Derry
I’m sure he marched out right manfully
Being much more like some commanding officer
Than one to hang upon the gallows tree
But the very first step he put on the gallows
His blooming colour began to fade
And with bitter crying and tender sighing
“Is there no releasement from Derry Gaol?”

Where is my love, she is so long coming
And what detains her so long from me?
Or does she think it some shame or scandal
For to see me hang upon the gallows tree?
Well he looked around and he saw her coming
She was riding faster than the wind
“Stand back, stand back you false prosecutors
For I bear releasement all from the King”
And I made them see they may not hang you
And I'll crown my love, all in a gown of green

Trad, arr T Ashworth

Ratcliffe Highway

As I was a-walking along Ratcliffe Highway
The recruiting party come a-beating the drum
I was listed and attested and before I did know
It's to the king's duty I was forced to go

Well I quickly escaped and I thought myself free
Till my cruel companions informed against me
I was quickly followed after and brought back with speed
In chains I was hung, heavy irons on me

Court martial, court martial, they held against me
And the sentence they gave me was three hundred and three
May the lord have mercy on them for their sad cruelty
For now the king's duty lies heavy on me

So again I escaped and I thought myself free
But my cruel sweetheart informed against me
I was quickly followed after and brought back with speed
In chains I was hung, heavy irons on me

Court martial, court martial I very soon got
And they quickly passed sentence that I should be shot
May the lord have mercy on them for their sad cruelty
For now the king's duty lies heavy on me
Court martial, court martial, they held against me
And the sentence they gave me was three hundred and three
May the lord have mercy on them for their sad cruelty
For now the king's duty lies heavy on me

So if ever you're a-walking all along Ratcliffe Highway
The recruiting party come a-beating the drum
Don't be listed and attested into the king's army
Or else the king's duty lie heavy on thee

Trad, arr T ashworth


Exile (just a note)

Just a note for time is short dear
Hard the work and long the day
And I’m thinking of you Mary
Though I’m many a mile away

Kiss the children for me Mary
Do not let them pine nor grieve
Tell them that I’m working for them
Why our home I have to leave

Building dams, airfields and factories
Shifting concrete by the load
And I’ll be with you in October
When I’m finished on the road

Ewan MacColl


Look To Windward (a carol for the margins)

This one (like more of my words than I really care to think about) is chock full of T S Eliot references. The ‘old man in a high backed chair’ is definitely the central figure in Gerontion (“Here I am, an old man in a dry month/Being read to by a boy, waiting for rain.”). Crowds flowing over bridges and Phoenician sailors are also pretty blatant nods.

The song is about centrism, and the way that people on the centre-left seem to me to be content to sit on the fence and settle for the least bad outcomes as we go to political hell in a handbasket. “You’re pulling down the scaffold or/You’re building up the wall” is the heart of the song for me.

Delusions of grandeur, a stiff blow to the heart
An old man in a high backed chair
He stares a thousand yards
As crowds flow over bridges
Towards the gates beyond
His hands won’t stop from shaking
This laying out of cards

It’s the fire lit at evening
That burns to dust in the hearth
It’s the mark you trace at our leaving
Says “we will be no part”

Is witness not approval?
A hand pressed on the scale
When all our checks and balances
Turned out to be for sale
When words are crossed on both sides
The pride before the fall
You’re pulling down the scaffold or
You’re building up the wall

It’s the fire lit at evening
That burns to dust in the hearth
It’s the mark you trace at our leaving
Says “we will be no part”
And you cross your chest every morning
For grace to guide your path
It’s the losses you’ll take
For a promise made years ago

The drowned Phoenician sailor
(A laying out of cards)
As if the deck’s not loaded
And every card not marked

It’s the fire lit at evening
That burns to dust in the hearth
It’s the mark you trace at our leaving
Says “we will be no part”
And you cross your chest every morning
For grace to guide your path
This carol for the margins:
“We will be no part”

© T Ashworth 2018


Poverty Knock

Up every morning at five,
It’s a wonder that we’re still alive
Tired and yawning, in the cold morning
And back to the dreary old drive
Oh dear, we're going to be late
The gaffer is stood at the gate
We're out of pocket, our wages he'll dock it
We'll have to buy grub on the slate

And it’s poverty, poverty knock
My loom it is singing all day
Poverty, poverty knock
The gaffer’s too skinny to pay us
Poverty, poverty knock
With always one eye on the clock
And I know I can guttle
When I hear my shuttle go
Poverty, poverty knock

Oh how my poor heart it sings
I should have woven three strings
The threads they keep breaking, my poor heart is aching
Oh god, how I wish I had wings
Sometimes a shuttle flies out
And gives some poor woman a clout
There she lies bleeding but nobody's heading
Will nobody carry her out?

The tuner should see to my loom
But he'd rather sit on his bum
He's far too busy a-courting our Lizzie
I just can't up get him to come
And Lizzie’s so easily led
I reckon he takes her to bed
She always skinny, now look at her pinny:
It’s just about time they was wed

Trad, arr T Ashworth


High Germany

Oh Polly love, oh Polly
The rout has now begun
And we must go a-marching
To the beating of the drum
Go dress yourself all in your best and
Come along with me
I’ll take you to the war, my love, in high Germany

Oh Willy love, oh Willy
Come listen what I say:
My feet they are so tender
I cannot march away
And besides my dearest Willy
I am with child by thee
Not fitted for the war, my love, in high Germany

I’ll buy for you a horse, my love
And on it you shall ride
And all of my delight will be
To ride there by your side
We’ll stop at every ale-house
And drink when we are dry
Be true to one another and get married, by and by

Oh cursed be the cruel wars
That ever they may rise
And out of merry England
Press many men like mine
They took my true love from me
Likewise my brothers three
Sent them to the way, my love, in high Germany

My friends I do not value
Nor foes I do not fear
Since my love has left me
I wander far and near
And when my baby it is born
And smiling on my knee
I’ll think of lovely Willy, in high Germany


Trad, arr T Ashworth

Pathfinding

I wrote this after a… lively conversation about trade unions with someone who crossed picket lines in the 1980s. I found their inability to see how the union had still worked in their favour despite their lack of solidarity very frustrating. That’s not to say that I think unions are always a totally positive force in the world, but I do believe that collective action is one of the few ways that working class people are able to impact the political establishment.

I also want to shout out Peaky Blinders - Freddie Thorne’s storyline in the first 2 seasons was in my brain as I worked on verse 2. Oh, and the true nerds amongst you may get the reference in the title…

Broken songs in broken tongues
The battle line collapsed
Broken trust in broken hands
And fixes that won’t last

A burden laid at tired feet,
The losses to survey:
A prelude to one more retreat
A muffled cry for aid
It’s only one more step along the way

Black-legs come and go like trains
From cradle to the grave
A victory for the company man:
Another fraction saved

A contract for an endless debt
To underwrite the sale
Broadsheets passed out, ink still wet
With backs against the rail
It’s only one more step along the way

Mark the ledger, sign your name
Waive your right to ask:
Who cut the ties that used to bind
The master to the task?

But if there’s still a line to hold
It’s power to your hand
To shake the tree until the fruit
Falls heavy to the land
It’s only one more step along the way

© T Ashworth 2018